Remember when people used to “drunk dial” you late at night? It doesn’t really happen any more. When I was at college we didn’t have cellphones and there was no such thing as Facebook. People didn’t send letters while they were drunk – it required too much effort. Plus, you’d probably be sober by the time you finished the letter. So typically there was no evidence of your antics the following morning – unless you’d left a drunken message on someone’s answering machine.
Today it’s hard to avoid evidence of our drunken exploits. Our friends not only have the photos and videos to show us the next morning what fools we were the night before. They now have technology that enables them to delight in embarrassing us almost live, as our inebriated performances play out, by posting them onto social media.
Some people don’t need their friends to get them into trouble, they do it all by themselves. Seizing the opportunity to post a drunken “selfie” or respond to a text message or social media post while drunk and angry, you’re almost guaranteed to do something you later regret.
When Sober, Your Behavior Should Be Different
When you’re drunk, your judgment is impaired, so you don’t consider the ethics or consequences of the opportunities you rush into. When sober, your behavior should be different – acceptable and within reason. That doesn’t always happen.
I’ve seen two stories this week about lawyers whose actions I liken to posting on Facebook while drunk.
Joseph A. Corsmeier has written at Legal Ethics Alerts about a Georgia lawyer who has been reprimanded by the state bar for violating lawyer-client confidentiality in their response to a client’s negative online review.
The second example is from New York PI lawyer Eric Turkewitz who has analyzed the ethics of a pay per click (PPC) scheme pitched to him. Eric says that in Texas it’s deemed unethical to use the name of a competitor as PPC keywords. So he’s concerned that a marketing company is selling him on the idea and using a Texas-based law firm as an example of this in action. According to Eric, this law firm could be sued for a PPC campaign that violates professional ethics, so he does not appreciate receiving advertising for a service that incites him to commit a misdemeanor.
In both examples, the lawyers have pushed ahead with actions without fully considering the implications and have left their ethics behind. They’ve done the legal marketing equivalent of posting drunk on Facebook. In the case of the Georgia lawyer’s response to their client’s review, it could be blamed on the heat of the moment. In the second example, the contract for an ongoing PPC campaign that violates ethics may have been signed in the heat of the moment but the campaign can be shut down just as quickly.
The lawyer may claim not to realize that their PPC campaign breaches ethics rules in the state of Texas but that’s not a valid excuse for a lawyer. We are who the public turns to when they need help. We can’t be as unethical as the defendants we may be suing on their behalf.
The PPC marketing company isn’t liable for breaching Texas ethics rules, the law firm client is. In both cases there is potential damage to the reputations of the lawyers involved.
As technology changes so fast, you may often feel the need to respond quickly to keep up with the pace. Whether it’s replying to online reviews or trying a new PPC campaign, check that whatever you do will stand up to scrutiny by any ethics committee. A poor decision made quickly could cost you dearly and, just like drunken Facebook posts, it could be just as difficult to fix once the damage has been done.